Making a splash, as a growing business, can give you a big leg up as you develop your reputation. A great publicity move can pay for itself many times over, especially if you’re starting with zero public awareness. But if you think the heavy lifting is over once you’ve gotten some eyeballs on you, that’s a grave mistake. Attention is great, but it should be the first step towards the real gains that won’t come from one spotlight-grabbing move alone.
A reputation is something built over years and years of consistent behavior. Delivering on business promises is a major aspect of it. The way you treat employees is another element. But of all the aspects that go into a reputation, the way you respond to challenges is perhaps its most visible manifestation. Call it gumption, call it grit, call it character, call it whatever you want, but make no mistake: this is the unshakeable foundation of any successful business.
A growing business’ leadership should be vigilantly aware of anything that could hurt their reputation, no matter how small. You may not think you’re big enough to worry about public relations yet, but PR has rapidly become one of the fundamental requirements for making a name in most markets. It’s not only for emergencies--a good PR plan will establish your company’s authority, help build your network, and help your sales and growth goals while you build. Play those cards right, and you’ll develop the kind of reputation that’s worth its weight in gold.
As the person in charge, you’ve got an extra layer of responsibility when it comes to reputation. Never forget that your own standing will always be tied directly to that of your company. In essence, you are the company, and as your reputation goes, so goes your organization. We all saw the major PR hit Uber took when former CEO Travis Kalanick was forced out after serious accusations of harassment and fraud made him toxic to his company’s brand. Now imagine the same happening without the massive user base and market penetration that Uber had at the time. Reputational damage, even at the lowest level, can sink a growing company before it truly takes off.
Of course, even if you make all the right moves as you build up, it won’t amount to anything if your business isn’t on solid ground to begin with. The story of Theranos is a great illustration of a company that made all the right connections, got some incredible VC money, and had the media eating out of their hands until it all fell apart because, well, their entire business model was constructed out of deceit.
That’s an extreme example, but it goes to show how quickly a reputation can vanish if the business isn’t sound. You don’t have to be a complete house of cards to lose your reputation in an instant: it happens when you or your company fails to live up to the expectations you’ve created.
Successful businesses arise from a real need being filled, but long-term survival is not always a matter of meeting the demands of the market. A solid business plan will get you out of the starting gate, but to beat out the competition you’ll need to run on more than words on paper. Your actions, in and out of the boardroom, will color perception of your business for the better, helping reach new heights that a context-free competitor won’t be able to touch. Because when it comes to you and your business’ good name, you won’t want anyone else’s fingerprints on it.